Often compared to Billie Holiday, singer Abbey Lincoln remains one of the biggest artists in Jazz History, along with the likes of Benny Carter, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Coleman Hawkins, Archie Shepp and Max Roach. Abbey Lincoln was very politically engaged; she was a symbolic figure of the Black Power and identified as a “Black Artist” rather than merely as a Jazz Singer.
Abbey Lincoln (born Anna Marie Wooldridge) grew up in Michigan. In 1951 she moved to California to begin her musical career. She was known by the stage names Anna Marie, Gaby Lee and Gaby Wooldridge; she finally settled on Abbey Lincoln, in 1956, a reference to Abraham Lincoln the president who abolished slavery. She made her first recording under the name Abbey Lincoln with Benny Carter in 1956 – Abbey Lincoln’s Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love. She then made three albums with the Riverside label – That’s Him (1957), It’s Magic (1958) and Abbey Is Blue (1959) – collaborating with artists such as Sonny Rollins, Paul Chambers, Benny Golson and Max Roach. Lincoln married Roach in 1962. They worked together on the album We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite (1960), an album directly linked to the African American Civil Rights movement. In the 60s jazz became a means of political expression for Lincoln.
Roach’s personal and musical influence on Abbey Lincoln is undeniable. He accompanied her on the albums she made for Riverside, but also encouraged Lincoln to never take the easy path, to avoid a commercial career in favour of fighting for respect and equality. Lincoln was a militant artist; she became a figurehead of the Black Power movement and always remained politically engaged in her life and her music, focusing on the plight of African-American communities. Her politicised activities meant that she was for a long time forbidden from performing on certain American stages. In 1989 she signed a contract with Verve, and gained an international reputation, particularly in France where she met with the French producer Philippe Allard. They collaborated on a large number of albums - The World is Falling Down (1990) with Ron Carter, Clark Terry, Jackie McLean and Alain Jean-Marie; You Gotta Pay The Band (1991) with Stan Getz, Charlie Haden and Mark Johnson; Devil's Got Your Tongue (1992) and When There is Love (1992). She released her last album Abbey Sings Abbey in 2007.
Six Landmark Dates in the Life of Abbey Lincoln
1956 – First recording under the name Abbey Lincoln
1962 – Married Max Roach (divorced in 1970)
1975 – Traveled to Africa, where her political work was recognised. Nicknamed “Aminata” (reliable) and “Moseka” in French Guinea and Congo.
1987 – Paid tribute to Billie Holiday with the album Abbey Sings Billie
1989 – Signed a contract with Verve
2007 – Recorded her last Album, Abbey Sings Abbey